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Demystifying Escape Room Creation: The Poe Case Study

If you’ve been staying up with the blog this month, you know we’re demystifying escape rooms. It’s easy to see the codes, locks, smoke and mirrors of escape rooms and think they’re not for you. But last week we talked about how to make creative escape rooms without the fuss on Google slides, and this week I’m going to walk you through the process I used to brainstorm content, create clues, and choose locks for an escape room on Edgar Allan Poe. You’ll see how to add some complexity without doing anything crazy.

Planning the Content

As with any escape room, the first step is to figure out what material you want students to take in as they play. In this case, I wanted to introduce students to that intriguing pioneer of the modern horror tale, Edgar Allan Poe. I wanted to create an introductory lesson that could function as a stand-alone activity on Poe, if there’s no more time for him, or an introduction to a larger unit on Poe and his work.

For this escape room, I wanted students to learn about Poe’s background, so I found a reliable source for an online bio, and a video tour of his home in Baltimore through the Edgar Allan Poe museum. Then I wanted them to become familiar with three of his most famous works, “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” I found text and audio versions of the first two online, and a full-length version of the third which I snagged excerpts from and combined with some illustrations in Canva to stick on a Google slide deck.

With these choices made, I was ready to create my room and plan my clues.

Building the Room

Let’s start with the room. I found this creepy-looking room in Canva and gradually dropped my visuals on top as I decided how to weave my content into clues in the room. I created a frame story in which students accidentally go through a door in the Poe museum into the house of Usher, and must solve the clues to unlock the locks to escape, so I called the escape room, “Escape the House of Usher.”

Now let’s talk about the clues and the locks, which go together.

The Clues & Locks: #1, Poe’s General Bio

I wanted to share all the materials with students in interesting ways, and then use my locks to check that they had made it through all the material. I wanted to add at least a few puzzles along the way, just to make it feel more mysterious and exciting, like something students had to really “unlock.”

So let’s start with Poe’s bio. I created a meme of Poe which I dropped onto a Google slide, then linked his image to his bio. If students click on the meme in the room, then click on him, then they will go to read his bio.

But just in case they didn’t realize they had to click on his name, I put a hint on the ripped paper they could click to from the wall, with a sentence directing them to click on Poe, “Click on the Poe boy in the meme,” but with the words in the sentence scrambled. They could discover the bio with or without this clue.

Then I created a short crossword puzzle with questions on his bio, and highlighted a few of the letters to be unscrambled into a code word, “terror.” (I used Canva to design this).

The first lock reads: “The Yellow Code: _ _ _ _ _ _.” The answer is “Terror.” This is probably the most complicated answer in the whole room, meaning students will probably have clicked around and looked at most things in the room before they get through lock number one.

The Clues and Locks: #2, The Tour

I used the play button on the laptop on the floor to link to the video tour of Poe’s house. Since I wanted students to watch the whole tour (it’s less than 10 minutes), I wanted to include a lock about it to make sure they did. So for the second lock, I asked when Poe moved away from Baltimore to Richmond, phrasing it with the hint “According to the tour guide…” to help students know where to look for the answer. I added another small hint in the form of the yellow post-it on the sign post. The “6:00” is a time stamp. Students will find the answer in the tour at the six minute mark. This is not the easiest of hints, but sometimes that’s part of the fun.

The Clues and Locks: #3, The Tell-Tale Heart

Since I wanted students to read all of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” I wanted to find a way to hide the full text in the room. So I created a piece of Poe-inspired digital blackout poetry to hang on the wall, which includes many sizes of heart illustrations. If students click on any of those hearts, they will go to a page with the short story where they can either watch a video reading or read the story as text, or both.

For my lock, I just wanted a way to show they had read the full story, so I pulled a quotation from the end. The third lock reads, “Louder, and louder! Louder and louder! What is that noise?” And the answer is “His Hideous Heart.”

Clues and Locks: #4, The Raven

I hid the poem, “The Raven,” in a few places in the room. Students can listen to Hank Green read it on Youtube by clicking on the actual raven in the room, or read the full text by clicking on the phone. With lock number four, I added a little twist. In order for students to realize the lock is about “The Raven,” they need to take a look at the coffee menu on the wall. I had a lot of fun describing these specialty coffees.

Lock number four reads, “Sure, it’s the cheapest coffee, but is it worth it? “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/ _____ _____ _____ _______.” In order to fill in the last four words of this line from “The Raven,” students must realize that “The Raven” coffee is the cheapest, then find the line in the text of the poem.

Clues and Locks #5: The House of Usher

Because the sinking red sun in the window of the room is a reference to “The House of Usher,” students must click on this window to visit a Google slides excerpt from the story. After reading the excerpt, they will know that at the end of the story (SPOILER ALERT), with the blood red moon hanging in the sky, the whole house sinks into a tarn. Then they’ll be able to answer lock number five, “No wonder you need to escape this room from the House of Usher, the whole thing will soon sink into a…”

Types of Locks

To keep things super simple, you can hand students a paper lock sheet for a digital escape room, OR you can use a Google form and click on the option to validate correct answers so students can’t move on to the celebrating success section until they get each answer exactly right.

Here’s what a paper lock sheet might look like:

And what it might look like as a Google form with answer formatting hints and verification turned on:

Celebrating Success

When students break through all five locks, you can either hand them a certificate (if you’re going with paper locks) or have them move on to a celebratory section (if you’re using Google forms).

A paper certificate might look something like this, perhaps accompanied by some candy.

And as a graphic that simply pops up on the screen once they move through section one in their Google form, it would be very similar.

So there you have it, my friend. One escape room walkthrough, to help you break down the mystery. I can practically hear all the ideas humming around in your head right now. I bet you’re swimming in escape room themes and clue possibilities!

I originally created this escape room in its digital and physical version for The Lighthouse, as we’re focused in on escape rooms this month, but I’ve put it into TPT by request, so you can find it here if you’re interested.

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